From Proper Beginnings to Clear Endings: Implementing Change
I am currently in the middle of a digital change project. And while I am not the project manager, I am part of the team leading the change. My school district is switching to an online, fillable, auto-populated Individual Education Plan for special needs students. The change was planned to happen over five years. We are currently in year two. Covid has stalled movement for change this year.
The old (what we now refer to as the ‘legacy’ IEP) does not fit well with British Columbia’s newly designed curriculum (https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/rethinking-curriculum). As the legacy IEP was based on students’ weaknesses and supporting those areas, the goal of education in BC has shifted to a strength-based model. This new Competency-Based Individual Education Plan (CB IEP) was developed over the last six years by various BC stakeholders and implemented across the province. These stakeholders included many school districts, school boards and the BC Ministry of Education. (CB IEP early template sample)
As far as project planning, I believe this is where issues arose. In 2015, after the redesigned curriculum was being implemented, a few districts, in isolation, started looking at revamping the IEP. Since there was no universal template, only ministerial requirements for audit purposes, the IEP follows; it was like the wild west out there regarding what an IEP looked like district to district. MyEdBC is the province’s online information system and operates as a central database for all student’s (https://www.myeducationbc.info/about/) data. The new CBIEP is embedded within this system and uses the data to auto-populate the demographics, and other information sets pertinent to the student’s designation. Also, because it is a fillable document, it has been coded with many drop-down choices for goals, objectives and strategies, which in the past were written by the case manager directly into the old legacy IEP’s.
When I reflect on the beginning of this change path, I can see a few points where things may have been done differently to exalt better results. The Ministry might have created a task force/think tank to establish this process during the new curriculum rollout. As Conway et al. (2017) point out, the problems and questions need to be “organized” when looking at barriers to a change process. This step did not happen. The new curriculum was redesigned but gave no thought to how that redesign would have a trickle-down effect on the processes affected by that redesign, like IEP’s. Education in each province in Canada is a system. As such, the approach to elicit change would benefit significantly from “systems thinking” (Conway et al., 2017). This is relevant because education is such a broad and public system. We need to be able to step back and see the big picture. The small microcosm we, as districts, find ourselves in becomes stagnant. Systems thinking is a way out of that. “It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots” (Senge, PM. 1990), and can unify the tunnel vision that the separate parts of the whole we get lost into (Conway et al., 2017).
There are still two more years down this change path. I can hope to bring what knowledge I have learned here back to the team. Although this process has begun, modelling after the framework that the University of Calgary reported on (2014), may prove to be useful, even at this juncture in the journey. Especially in terms of a “supportive environment” and “learning spaces” (University of Calgary, 2014) for the users to become comfortable and invested in this change.
So far, the project’s most significant barriers have been resistance to the adoption of new technology, funding for ample support and a clear, concise path to completion. All big ones, I know. These are just at my district level. I am not privy to how the process began, so it is unclear if a framework or model for change was employed at this project’s genesis. At my district level, we have been working to empower users the best we know how. Is this enough? No, likely not. Our members are saturated, our funding is limited and tight, and our path to completion has been stalled due to a global pandemic. September 2021 will herald in a new school year, and with it, revitalized creativity and vigour within the district. This change project team will reconvene with purpose and possibly with a member that has a little bit more insight into digital change and project management.
Conway, R., Masters, J., & Thorold, J., (2017). From design thinking to systems change: How to invest in innovation for social impact. Royal Society of Arts, Action and Research Centre. https://www.thersa.org/globalassets/pdfs/reports/rsa_from-design-thinking-to-system-change-report.pdf
University of Calgary, Learning Technologies Task Force. (2014). Strategic framework for Learning Technologies